Should affirmative action be based on income?

Following last week’s Supreme Court decision to uphold a Michigan constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action in admissions to the state’s public universities, the New York Times’ Room for Debate posed the question: “Should affirmative action be based on income?”

F. Michael Higginbotham, author of Ghosts of Jim Crow, was invited to weigh in on the discussion. Read his response below, and be sure to check out insight from all of the debaters over at the NYT’s Room for Debate.

It’s not time for income-based affirmative action; race-based preference is still vital in the United States given the country’s history of slavery and its continuing, pervasive racial discrimination. To think otherwise is selective memory loss.

The Schuette decision upheld the right of Michigan voters to prohibit affirmative action in admissions to state colleges and universities. But that reasoning is flawed in two ways. First, affirmative action is characterized as an unfair preference rather than a justified remedy. And second, the decision whether to ban affirmative action is left to the electoral process.

To understand this flawed reasoning, one must go back to the beginning of the affirmative action debate during Reconstruction. In the civil rights cases of 1883, the Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment did not empower Congress to prohibit owners of public accommodations from discriminating against black patrons. The owners were free to decide themselves. In his opinion for the court, Justice Joseph Bradley wondered when black Americans would stop being given special treatment under the law and become mere citizens.

Unfortunately, Schuette seems to embrace this same characterization of affirmative action as preferential treatment that may be prohibited by majority vote. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a plurality, said that voters in Michigan chose to eliminate racial preferences because nothing in the Constitution gives judges the authority to undermine the election results.

Yet, erroneously characterizing affirmative action as an unfair preference allows the court to defer to the electoral process just as it deferred to property owners in the 1880s. Justice Harold Blackmun recognized this error before he retired in 1994. Speaking about a seemingly consistent majority of five Supreme Court Justices on the key civil rights and race relations cases of the 1980s, Blackmun said: “One wonders whether the majority still believes that race discrimination—or, more accurately, race discrimination against non-whites—is a problem in our society, or even remembers that it ever was.”

While 20 years have passed and several new justices have been appointed, racial disparities remain alarmingly wide. Black unemployment, poverty and homelessness are twice that of whites. Wealth accumulation for blacks is one twentieth of what it is for whites. Similar disparities exist for Hispanics. Racial profiling in the criminal justice system is rampant.

Affirmative action raises difficult questions of access and fairness. This country’s continuing failure to significantly reduce de facto discrimination prevents many from receiving equal protection today. Affirmative action helps off set this imbalance.

F. Michael Higginbotham is the Wilson H. Elkins Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore, former interim dean and the author of Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism In Post-Racial America (NYU Press, 2013).

Mandela was not a Hallmark card

—Alan Wieder

Long-time South African educator and President of the New Unity Movement, R. O. Dudley had a quote that he used when speaking of various iconic South African struggle leaders: He “had arms, not wings.”  It is a phrase that we should remember when speaking of the late Nelson Mandela, but unfortunately, press coverage in the United States as well as throughout the world has turned Madiba into a Hallmark greeting card figure.

And while Mandela’s role as a freedom fighter and the major force for reconciliation in the new democratic South Africa should be honored and celebrated, we must remember that we are talking about a complex revolutionary, and also a complex politician.

Nelson Mandela worked with comrades throughout the struggle and beyond. Internal colonialism, racism, class disparity, and extreme oppression were part of South African history long before the apartheid regime came to power in the late 1940s.  Nelson Mandela collaborated with other activists, black, Indian, coloured, and white, at Wits University in Johannesburg and it was within this grouping, as well as from his fellow African National Congress Youth League leaders, that he came to a belief in nonracialism.  I was asked recently if he was criticized for promoting nonracialism during the struggle and I answered that he actually came late to the party. He clearly stated that it was the struggle commitment of fellow students at Wits—Ruth FirstJoe Slovo, Bram Fischer, Ishmael Meer, Norman Levy, J.N. Singh and others, as well as his close friends, and struggle stalwarts Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo—that changed his view on the struggle. A view that went from African Unity and only fighting racism to a belief that imperialism, class disparity, and racism were all connected.No one argues with Mandela‘s leadership in the African National Congress during the fifties and through the 1964 Rivonia Trial where he and seven comrades were sentenced to life imprisonment.  The key word here, though, is comrades, because Nelson Mandela always worked with other people in the struggle, during his time at Robben Island Prison, and of course in both the negotiations with the apartheid regime and the forming of the first South African democratic government in 1994.  President Barack Obama was totally in error when he said that Mandela’s life proved the power of one man with courage and vision could change the world.

Countless are the continuing statements on Nelson Mandela as a man of peace and love and forgiveness—none of them are untrue yet they are clearly only a partial portrait as Nelson Mandela was part of a struggle fighting against what Bishop Desmond Tutu often refers to as a “pigmentocracy.”  And an organized pigmentocracy at that.  Throughout the 1950s beginning with the Defiance Campaign against the magnification of racist legislation, to the Freedom Charter calling for democracy for all South Africans, to the 1956 Treason Trial, the mission of Mandela and his struggle comrades was to change the South African government.  However Gandhian the strategy and tactics of this part of the struggle took, the government oppression became more harsh, more violent, and more oppressive.  Thus, by 1962, for Nelson Mandela, who had gone underground, as well as his comrades, it could not be all peace and love.   Before he was arrested that year Mandela was clandestinely interviewed by British journalist Brian Widlake.

If the government reaction is to crush by naked force our non-violent demonstrations we will have to seriously reconsider our tactics.  In my mind, we are closing a chapter on this question of non-violent policy.

Mandela was actually asking the apartheid regime, once again, to question their own policy of harsh, violent, repression.  And what he was proposing at this point was not actually armed struggle, but rather armed propaganda—attacks on government facilities in an attempt to show, first the people, and then the government, that the apartheid regime was not invulnerable.

At this point, 1962, armed propaganda didn’t do much to reach either goal, and although Mandela, in partnership with Joe Slovo, had written a document for armed struggle, called Operation Mayibuye, and cadres of struggle soldiers were sent out of South Africa for military training, the arrests at Rivonia crippled the struggle for almost a decade.  Yet even at trial Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary—his message certainly wasn’t peace and love.  His now famous speech in the court deserves repeating.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people.  I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Mandela went to Robben Island prison in 1964 and would not see freedom until 1990. In fact, his face was not even seen in a photograph again until 1988—representation of the totality of apartheid.  His interactions in prison, however, were both revolutionary and human, and in spite of the harsh conditions he faced he was involved in political conversations across the boundaries of competing struggle organizations and was very much part of what prisoners referred to as Robben Island: Our University.

Nelson Mandela spent the struggle years in prison and it was comrades like Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, Pallo Jordan, Ronnie Kasrils, and younger MK soldiers that continued the struggle-in-exile.  Within South Africa black people on the ground and the in-country exemplification of the ANC, the United Democratic Front, kept the struggle alive.  But by the mid-eighties Nelson Mandela was part of the conversations with the apartheid regime and he was released in 1990.  It must be remembered that South Africa did not have a successful armed revolution, but rather a negotiated settlement.  And this is where Nelson Mandela becomes a politician.

So while I do not begrudge the peace and love eulogies nor question the magnitude of the end of organized and legislative apartheid in South Africa, I again think that it is important to view Madiba with more complexity.  No one will ever claim that the negotiations with the apartheid regime were easy and it is here where Mandela’s mastery as a politician comes front and center.  Yes, it was important that he publicly stood up to De Klerk.  But one has to question whether these clashes didn’t play well for both men within their own constituencies.  We have to also wonder at which point the United States, the United Kingdom, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund entered negotiations about negotiations.  Because the formal negotiations between the ANC and the apartheid regime is where Mandela’s political skill is paramount.  Nelson Mandela basically sidelined (albeit temporarily) Thabo Mbeki and chose three negotiators that represented the far left of the struggle—Cyril Ramaphosa then of the Mineworkers Union and Joe Slovo and Mac Maharaj from the South African Communist Party.  Did Madiba know that selling what would surely become a neo-liberal transition to the struggle left was more difficult that negotiating with the enemy?  Did Madiba know that he needed Joe Slovo to proclaim the sunset clauses that would protect the jobs of apartheid regime bureaucrats?  Again a question—but one surely worth asking.

What we do know is that neo-liberalism came with vengeance to South Africa and that the ANC and President Mandela became partners with the West.  But we also know that in the early struggle years Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary who believed and fought for a people’s democracy.  So, even if there is much more complexity than the present eulogies exhibit, Madiba is still estimable.  And the hope, at least from my perspective, is that the love of people that these Hallmark eulogies proclaim will lead to 1980s struggle conversations and actions that address the class disparity, lack of services, freedom of press issues, and corruption that exist today in South Africa.

Alan Wieder is the author of Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheidpublished this year by Monthly Review Press.

[This piece originally appeared in Monthly Review's webzine. Read it here.]

Give back to the Philippines in the wake of a tragedy

—Catherine Ceniza Choy

The heart-breaking devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the central islands of the Philippine archipelago is deeply felt across the ocean.  Although I do not have immediate family in the most affected areas and it has been over a decade since I last visited the Philippines, I am emotionally attached to the awesome beauty of archipelago’s landscape, its many islands that sustained my ancestors, and the fortitude and resilience of the Filipino people there as well as in the diaspora.

Typhoon Haiyan from space

As the daughter of Filipino immigrants, I have an indelible childhood image of my mother taping an oversized map of the Philippine archipelago on the inside of her closet door.  She was committed to raising her American-born children to become part of an increasingly diverse U.S. citizenry, but she also taught me through this example that we are part of a nation comprised of peoples from many nations.

Throughout my childhood and even to this day, I watch my mother strike warm, nostalgic conversations with other Filipino immigrants she has just met in the most mundane of spaces — bus stations, restaurant counters, department store aisles.

These moments form the core of my understanding of the promise and heartbreak of the U.S. immigrant experience.  I learned that we are connected to and should remain proud of where we came from.

I am not alone.  In the United States, Filipino Americans are demonstrating their bayanihanspirit in full force.  U.S.-based organizations, such as the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns and the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, are collecting donations through their local chapters.  Individuals are utilizing their talents to mobilize help for the devastated areas.  For example, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, the authors of Memories of Philippine Kitchens, are organizing their food networks in New York and Manila to raise funds for disaster relief.

At UC Berkeley, Filipino American student organizations are working together to raise funds through the sale of Philippines ribbons on Sproul as well as awareness through a moment of silence for typhoon victims on Wednesday, Nov. 20 from 11-11:15 a.m. on Upper Sproul Plaza, and a candlelit night of solidarity the day after (Thursday, Nov. 21) , from 4:30 to 6 p.m., also on Upper Sproul Plaza.  It is heartwarming that so many Americans, and not solely Americans of Filipino descent, have joined these collective efforts.

Why should this tragedy in islands across the Pacific matter to all of us?  The harrowing images and stories of the survivors and the dead circulated by news and social media activate our humanitarian impulses.  But our efforts must eventually go beyond the current, fleeting moment of rescue and towards the more enduring work of reciprocity.

While colonialism and war have created longstanding relationships between the Philippines and the United States, contemporary Filipino immigration to the United States has profoundly shaped this country.  According to a June 2013 demographic profile published in Migration Information Source, Filipinos comprise the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States.  In 2011, over 1.8 million Filipino immigrants resided in the United States.  One-third of these immigrants lived in three major metropolitan areas: greater Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.

One of the most important streams of this immigration is that of Filipino immigrant nurses.  Over 100,000 Filipino nurses have migrated to the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and the majority of them have devoted their lives to caring for Americans in U.S. hospitals.

In other words, this tragedy has not simply taken place somewhere out there, but is one that hits close to our American home.  Thus, my hope is that all of us partake in these efforts to give back to the Philippines, a country that has given and sacrificed so much for our own.

Catherine Ceniza Choy is Professor of Ethnic Studies and a core faculty member of the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Global Families: A History of Asian International Adoption in America (NYU Press, 2013).

Pope Francis and the American sisters

—Margaret M. McGuinness

The news reports, blog entries, and tweets seem to be never-ending. Pope Francis is clearly news, and everyone wants to weigh in on the man, his message, and what it all means for both the papacy and the Catholic Church. Women religious in the United States have a special interest in Francis’ views on many subjects, especially those related to their status and ministry within the institutional church. His predecessor, Benedict XVI, placed the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)—representing 80% of U.S. sisters and nuns—under the authority of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who has five years to oversee any reforms to the organization that he deems appropriate. Francis has not reversed this decision to date, and many are wondering when, if ever, he will decide to deal decisively with this particular issue.

At the same time, many women religious are finding signs of hope in the words and actions of the first Latin American pope. Sister Camille D’Arienzo, for instance, a former president of LCWR, is hopeful that the “nonsense” will simply go away. According to a recent article in the New York Times, it is Francis’s concern for the poor and marginalized that appeals to Sister Camille. In addition to ministering to those living on death row, she is the founder of the Cherish Life Circle, a group that offers support to men and women opposed to the death penalty. Francis, she believes, has convincingly demonstrated his belief that those who work with and minister to the poor and oppressed are indeed doing God’s work.

Historians are not supposed to predict the future, and I have no intention of changing that rule. I think—although ‘hope’ might be a better word—that Sister Camille and other sisters and nuns might be right. All signs indicate that Francis is in no hurry to pass judgment on the LCWR, but is anxious to turn the attention of Catholics to those in need. If that is indeed the case, he should not follow his predecessors, who chastised women religious for not doing enough to support the church’s teachings on sexuality. Instead, he should praise their work with, and concern for, the poor and marginalized.

Margaret M. McGuinness is Professor of Religion and Vice President for Mission at La Salle University, Philadelphia. She is the author of Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America (NYU Press, 2013).

Book giveaway! 22 Ideas to Fix the World

This week, we’re putting the spotlight on our book, 22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations with the World’s Foremost Thinkers, which releases on September 9.

In this unique volume from the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations and the Social Science Research Council, some of the world’s greatest minds—from Nobel Prize winners to long-time activists—explore what the prolonged instability of the so-called Great Recession means for our traditional understanding of how governments can and should function. Through interviews that are sure to spark lively debate, 22 Ideas to Fix the World presents both analysis of past geopolitical events and possible solutions and predictions for the future.

Featuring interviews with:
Zygmunt Bauman, Shimshon Bichler & Jonathan Nitzan, Craig Calhoun, Ha-Joon Chang, Fred Dallmayr, Mike Davis, Bob Deacon, Kemal Dervis, Jiemian Yang, Peter J. Katzenstein, Ivan Krastev, Will Kymlicka, Manuel F. Montes, José Antonio Ocampo, Vladimir Popov, Jospeh Stiglitz, Olzhas Suleimenov, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Immanuel Wallerstein, Paul Watson, Vladimir Yakunin, Muhammad Yunus

To celebrate the forthcoming publication, we’re giving away 2 *free* copies of the book! Enter today on Goodreads for a chance to win.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

22 Ideas to Fix the World by Piotr Dutkiewicz
22 Ideas to Fix the World
Edited by Piotr Dutkiewicz and Richard Sakwa

Giveaway ends September 09, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 

For more on the book, you can also read the introduction to 22 Ideas to Fix the World. And stay tuned to the blog—we’ll be offering a free chapter from the book later this week!

Bradley Manning’s revelations saved lives

Was the Bradley Manning verdict fair? Over at US News & World Report’s Debate Club, NYUP author Marjorie Cohn weighs in. Read her piece below, and then vote for it here!

This is a historic verdict. Judge Denise Lind correctly found Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy because the evidence failed to establish that Manning knew information he provided to WikiLeaks would reach al-Qaida. A conviction of aiding the enemy would have sent a chilling message to the news media that if they publish leaked classified information, their officers could face life in prison. That would deprive the public of crucial information.

The verdict finding Manning guilty of Espionage Act offenses, however, sends an ominous warning that could deter future whistle-blowers from exposing government wrongdoing. It’s important to keep in mind that Manning provided information indicating the U.S. had committed war crimes. Traditionally the Espionage Act has been used only against spies and traitors, not whistle-blowers. Yet President Obama has used the Espionage Act to prosecute more whistle-blowers than all prior administrations combined.

Manning’s revelations actually saved lives. After WikiLeaks published his documentation of Iraqi torture centers established by the United States, the Iraqi government refused Obama’s request to extend immunity to U.S. soldiers who commit criminal and civil offenses there. As a result, Obama had to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the NSA.]

The American public needed to know the information Manning provided. He revealed evidence of war crimes in the “Collateral Murder” video, which depicts a U.S. Apache attack helicopter crew killing 12 unarmed civilians and wounding two children in Baghdad in 2007. The crew then killed people attempting to rescue the wounded. A U.S. tank drove over one of the bodies, cutting it in half. Those actions constitute war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

The Bush administration waged an illegal war in Iraq in which thousands of people were killed. It also established an interrogation program that led to the torture and abuse of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and the CIA black sites. Yet it is Bradley Manning, not the Bush officials, who is being prosecuted.

Judge Lind has already reduced any sentence Manning may receive by 112 days because of his mistreatment during the first 11 months of his custody, when he was kept in solitary confinement and humiliated by being forced to stand naked for inspection. Hopefully the judge will take into account how Manning’s revelations benefit our society when she passes sentence. Manning is still facing 136 years in prison for his convictions on 19 of the 21 counts with which he was charged.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyer’s Guild. Her books include The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse (NYU Press, 2011), Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law, and Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice.

Warren Jeffs’ total control over followers from prison questioned

—Stuart A. Wright

The April 4 news story by ABC News regarding the imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), Warren Jeffs is misleading in several respects. The reporter, Amy Robach, asserts that “there are some people who believe that he is more powerful now that he is behind bars than he was when he was living in that community.” Played to the listening audience, a Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) official’s statement (recorded by telephone) implies a sense of helplessness: “If somebody comes in and visits with [Jeffs] and he gives them instructions and they take them back by word of mouth, there’s just nothing we can do to control that.” In the closing segment, ABC anchor Diane Sawyer asks Robach if the young girls are still in danger. Robach responds by stating that “according to every ex-FLDS member we’ve spoken to, the answer is unfortunately yes. The police say they have very little authority at this point because the parents of these young girls and children are relinquishing the control over to other adults as has been dictated by Warren Jeffs and police say without a witness, there is very little they can do.”

I would like to counter the first claim that Jeffs is somehow more powerful than ever in his incarcerated state. While Jeffs is still issuing edicts from prison, there are approximately 1,500 members who are not in compliance with his demands. Simply put, the community is in disarray. Several hundred members have left and hundreds more are following another rival leader, William E. Jessop, who was a former FLDS bishop and who rejects the authority of Jeffs. In contrast to Jeffs, Jessop has liberalized gender roles, condemned underage marriage, and promoted high school and college education. Therefore, it is clear that Jeffs does not have “complete control” over the FLDS. And since Jeffs is never likely to leave prison, his authority will likely wane, not increase.

In terms of the second claim that the police has little authority in FLDS cases concerning young girls, I would like to demonstrate that the state actually has considerable space to intervene. The District Court in Texas, in vacating its conservatorship over the FLDS children at the YFZ Ranch in 2008, mandated that each parent, child, or other person, could not interfere with the ongoing supervision of the children by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. In other words, the state may visit the home of the children to interview and even examine (medically or psychologically) at any time, without announcing the visit ahead of time. Thus, there is extensive state control over the young FLDS girls in Texas. Moreover, the families and children are not allowed to leave the state, further underscoring its authority in a space that media discourse has claimed it has had none. As well, I question whether family and children protective services in southern Utah or Northern Arizona, where the main communities are located, are as powerless as implied.

Finally, let’s draw attention to reporter Robach’s preface to the claim that the young girls are in danger. She states, “According to every ex-FLDS member we’ve spoken to….” There are volumes of research literature to show that the accounts of ex-members of controversial religious groups such as the FLDS are notoriously unreliable. My book (co-edited with James T. Richardson) on the FLDS raid, specifically addresses this unreliability. I am not discounting all of these accounts, but it’s important for us to consider the sources and recognize that some ex-members are disgruntled and may have an axe to grind; they are not purely objective or impartial sources, and accordingly inflect our understanding of the events with their biases.

Stuart A. Wright is Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Department of  Sociology, Social Work & Criminal Justice at Lamar University.  He is the co-editor (with James T. Richardson) of Saints Under Siege: The Texas State Raid on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (NYU Press, 2011).

Blame the popes, not the nuns

—Margaret M. McGuinness

Pope Benedict XVI’s recent decision to resign from the papacy has generated a number of commentaries, op-ed pieces, and blog posts on the significance of the pontiff’s actions for the future of both the throne of St. Peter and the greater Catholic Church. Some writers have focused in particular on what this means for U.S. sisters and nuns who have had their differences with Catholic clerical leaders over the years. Most American women religious, the prevailing institutional argument claims, have deviated from traditional Catholic teaching, especially those related to abortion, same-sex marriage, and an all-male priesthood. In addition, sisters have moved too far from their convents and are now engaged in advocacy work—or ministry, depending on your point of view—that focuses too much on the poor and underserved.

When examining the history of women religious, however, it is hard to ignore the role the papacy played in leading sisters and nuns to embrace the world and its problems. Although Bonifice VIII issued a bull, or proclamation, ordering nuns to be cloistered in 1298, twentieth-century popes have taken a somewhat different approach. In 1929, Pius XI encouraged sisters to receive the education necessary for staffing parochial schools. Almost thirty years later, in 1958, his successor, Pius XII, urged religious communities to abandon those practices that kept them from being in touch with the modern world.

By the time of Pius XII’s call for women religious to consider their role in contemporary society, sisters and nuns had taken Pius XI’s admonition to heart. Focused on the education of nuns, the Sister Formation Conference (SFC) developed the Everett curriculum, which focused on the liberal arts, Catholic social teaching, and ways to effect “structural change in society.”  Their education, combined with several documents produced by the bishops at the second Vatican Council (1962-1965)—notably Lumen Gentium (1964), Gaudium et Spes (1965), and the Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life, (Perfectae Caritatis, 1965)—led sisters to conclude that they were called to return to the original reasons behind the founding of their communities; in other words, they were to read the “signs of the times” and meet the needs of twentieth-century Americans.

American women religious of the twenty-first century continue to teach school and nurse the sick, but they also minister to the undocumented, the poor, and those living on death rows throughout our nation’s prisons. Who is to blame for women religious leaving the traditional cloister and entering a ministry devoted to advocacy and social justice? Maybe, just maybe, it’s the popes.

Margaret M. McGuinness is Professor of Religion and Executive Director of the Office of Mission Integration at La Salle University, Philadelphia. She is the author of Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America (NYU Press, 2013).

Russia’s ban and the real issues facing adoption today

—Laura Briggs

The Russian adoption ban and the U.S. Magnitsky Act offer all the absurdity of the Cold War, with less geopolitically at stake. Both sides are claiming the other is cruel to children, and neither is making much sense. There are real issues to talk about related to the care of children, but the conversation in the blogosphere and the press on both the Russian and U.S. sides relies on caricatures of each other, children, and adoption.

In early December, Congress passed and Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, which was aimed at Russian officials responsible for the death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who had supposedly uncovered a tax fraud scheme by Russian officials against Hermitage Capital Management, a U.K.-based financial company that lobbied heavily for the Act. It also imposed visa and financial sanctions against all Russian officials responsible for “gross violations of human rights.” It’s unclear at best what this means, but it does seem to violate U.S. and international law—Russian officials apparently could have assets frozen and even be incarcerated if they set foot on U.S. soil, based simply on allegations by U.S. NGOs.

Russia responded by denouncing the hypocrisy of the U.S.—noting human rights abuses in Guantánamo’s prison—and its parliament passed the Dima Yakovlev Act, which banned U.S. NGOs, including those involved with adoptions, from operating in Russia. Dima Yakovlev was an adopted Russian toddler who died in July 2008 when his new father left him strapped in a hot car for nine hours in a Washington, D.C. area parking lot. The case made headlines in Russia when the father was acquitted on manslaughter charges, joining a steady stream of other terrible cases reported in the press of Russian adoptees being beaten, neglected, and killed by their U.S. parents—igniting calls for an international adoption ban.

While the actions of a mother in Tennessee, who put her seven-year old adopted son from Russia on a plane back to that country in 2010, made headlines in the U.S., for Russians it was just another in a long series, a steady drumbeat of distressing stories about serious abuse of Russian adoptees. While there is little doubt that it was the Magnitsky Act that precipitated the ban on U.S. adoptions from Russia, it wouldn’t have been possible to mobilize so quickly to stop them if there were not already a great deal of pre-existing political sentiment in this direction.

The whole thing seems like nothing so much as the Nixon-Krushchev kitchen debate, the 1959 exchange between the two leaders about a washing machine in a model house they were touring with press in tow. Krushchev accused the U.S. of “capitalist attitudes” that exploited and oppressed women in the home. Nixon touted the U.S. standard of living, and said that while misogynist attitudes were universal, the purpose of things like washing machines was to make things easier for “our housewives.”

The Magnitsky-Yakovlev exchange mirrors this conversation in all its foolishness. The trouble with the U.S. position is that it is entirely too sentimental about how great the nuclear family is for children, while the Russian side is too cynical. For one thing, the U.S. press keeps talking about Russian “orphans.” But almost none of the children living in large Russian institutions—about 120,000, according to most estimates—are actually orphans. They are, like the 400,000 children in the U.S. child welfare system, victims of variously bad circumstances, from parental homelessness to alcoholism or mental illness to abuse. Some have physical or emotional disabilities that make it very difficult for them to live in a family. Certainly the Russian child welfare system has few things to recommend it, being among other things severely underfunded. (One possibly productive side-effect of all of this is the promise of more funding flowing to Russian child-welfare institutions.)

On the U.S. side, after our own experiments with large-scale institutions for children through the 1960s, we have swung to a new anti-institutional extreme that is informing our desire to “rescue” Russian “orphans.” We imagine that virtually all children—no matter what their history, their emotional or physical state, or the likelihood that their parents might return for them or at least visit—would be better off in a nuclear family. This is sentimental and naïve. While most adoptions of children from Russian institutions go well, post-institutional children or those dealing with the aftermath of abuse—whether they’re from U.S. foster care, Russian orphanages, or any number of other places—sometimes have extremely challenging behaviors, outside the box of normal childhood challenges. Some are frighteningly violent, which accounts for some (although by no means all) of the reports of U.S. parents responding with terrible violence of their own to Russian adoptees. The Tennessee single mother who returned her son to Russia had told the local sheriff in her town that the seven-year-old had made credible threats that he would burn the house down while she and her other children slept. She got no help. As the viral circulation of the blog post known as “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” made clear, we have few supports and essentially no idea what to do when families say they are afraid of their children’s violence. This, alongside a rejection of the therapeutic culture that seems to have little to offer either parents or children in these situations, provokes a certain acquiescence and even support for the kind of “spare the rod, spoil the child” parenting that can lead to horrific abuse.

The Russians, like Krushchev in 1959, imagine our families as places that exploit the weak and vulnerable—children, this time.

There is nothing good about the Magnitsky-Yakovlev exchange, nor what it produces for institutionalized Russian children or adoptees in the U.S. But let’s use this opportunity to talk about real issues facing children, parents, and states in the U.S., Russia, and across the globe.

>> This post also appeared on the author’s blog. Click here for more.

Laura Briggs is Associate Professor and Department Head of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona. Her book International Adoption: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of Children was published by NYU Press in 2009.

New Spreadable Media essays: Week 3

We’re at week three since launching the online component of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture!

Here are this week’s round of web exclusive essays written by selected contributors who have shaped the argument put forth in Spreadable Media:

  • The Value of Retrogames“—Bob Rehak, a film and media studies professor at Swarthmore College, examines how grassroots interest in residual media and culture may coalesce online, sparking new kinds of cultural practices and production.
  • Clothing has passed between different kinds of exchanges for centuries, acquiring different meanings and values in the process—and, in “A Global History of Secondhand Clothing,” filmmaker and MIT media historian Hanna Rose Shell traces and examines those shifting sartorial roles.
  • In “Retrobrands and Retromarketing,” York University professor Robert V. Kozinets discusses the strategies through which companies engage in “retrobranding,” reviving or relaunching brands from the past in ways that capitalize on existing fandoms and provide launching points for the creation of new markets.

Check ‘em out, and stay tuned at http://spreadablemedia.org/essays—where each week leading up to the book’s publication (in January 2013!), a new batch of exclusive essays will be released.

(And hey! Feel free to debate/critique/trash each piece in the comments section. Expand the conversation, transform the ideas. That’s how spreadable media works.)

Following the science of eyewitness identification

—David A. Harris

decision by Oregon’s Supreme Court on eyewitness identification procedures has re-set the way that juries and courts in that state will think about eyewitness identification.

According to the New York Times editorial on the case, the ruling shifts the burden of proof to prosecutors to prove that eyewitness identifications are reliable before they can be admitted in court. Before last week’s decision, the rule had been that identifications were generally admitted; it was up to the defense in individual cases to prove that an identification was not reliable.

But at least as important as the new rule itself was the reason that the Oregon court abandoned its old precedent: the court had concluded that the old rule was based on assumptions about eyewitness testimony no longer supported by the science. Thus the new case represents a textbook case of a court forcing law enforcement away from the failed evidence of discredited methods, and toward methods that accord with what science teaches us now.

Under the old rule, Oregon judges looked at five factors when evaluating an eyewitness identification: opportunity to view the alleged perpetrator, attention to identifying features, timing and completeness of description given after the event, certainty of description and identification by witness, and lapse of time between original observation and the subsequent identification. Looking at these factors from the vantage point of the present day, the Oregon court found them “incomplete and, at times, inconsistent with modern scientific findings.” Given the science on eyewitness identification that is by now well established, the court prescribed a new approach, including the change in the burden of proof.

That’s what the Oregon Supreme Court did, but here is why they did it:

…[W]e believe that it is imperative that law enforcement, the bench, and the bar be informed of the existence of current scientific research and literature regarding the reliability of eyewitness identification because, as an evidentiary matter, the reliability of eyewitness identification is central to a criminal justice system dedicated to the dual principles of accountability and fairness.

It’s hard to imagine a better summing up of the ideas behind Failed Evidence, and why the fight to overcome law enforcement’s general resistance to science is so important.

This article originally appeared on the author’s blog—read it here.

David A. Harris is Distinguished Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing and Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work.

Election 2012: The death of the Southern Strategy?

—Steven A. Ramirez

For many decades the GOP played the politics of racial divisiveness to further the cause of tax cuts, deregulation and a more limited federal government. The election of 2012 promises to end this ugly chapter in American politics. The ultimate outcome will change our political landscape in far-reaching ways.

Surprisingly, Republican leaders openly admit that their party used race to appeal to white voters (particularly in the old Confederacy) disaffected with the perceived embrace of racial equality within the Democratic Party. Republican strategist Kevin Phillips openly admitted to seeking out the votes of “negrophobe whites” in the New York Times in 1970. The Nation very recently posted the actual audio recording of Reagan Administration Official Lee Atwater articulating how the GOP implemented the Southern Strategy in sordid (and highly offensive) detail in 1981. Atwater unabashedly ties the politics of race to economic issues such as tax cuts. Two Republican National Committee Chairs actually apologized for the Southern Strategy.

In my book Lawless Capitalism, I argue that the politics of racial division led directly to the subprime debacle through massive financial deregulation beginning in the Reagan Administration. Deregulation of mortgage lending, the basic structure of globalization, and financial consolidation all find their roots in the Reagan Administration. Indeed, the fundamental explosion in American debt started in 1980. To be fair, the Democrats contributed much to the crisis too. The crisis resulted from longstanding and bipartisan policies. Nevertheless, the Southern Strategy dominated the political scene in the decades preceding the subprime debacle.

The election of 2012 may spell the end of the Southern Strategy, at least as a means of GOP success. African American and Latino voters turned out in record numbers. Asian American voters supported President Obama over Mitt Romney by 73-26, a margin that exceeds Obama’s advantage among Latino voters.

The viability of the GOP’s Southern Strategy will continue to fade. Asian Americans form the fastest growing minority group in the nation. A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Research Center projects that the voting power of Hispanics will double by 2030—to nearly half of the electorate. If the Democrats continue to run candidates of color to energize this base, then these growing voting groups will constitute a formidable foundation for a durable Democratic majority. Meanwhile, the GOP base still today favors discriminatory practices, such as anti-immigration laws and legislation designed to suppress the vote of minority communities.

On issues relating to immigration, education, voting rights, the war on drugs, and many others, a fundamental change in political calculus is afoot. I contend the change may be even more monumental than such core issues. Ultimately, without the ability of governing elites to use the politics of racial division to further their interests, the very high level of economic inequality currently burdening our nation may be unsustainable.

Steven A. Ramirez is Professor of Law at Loyola University of Chicago, where he also directs the Business and Corporate Governance Law Center. His book, Lawless Capitalism: The Subprime Crisis and the Case for an Economic Rule of Law, will publish in December 2012.